What does Passover mean to the Christian faith today, and how can Christians embrace, celebrate and proclaim that meaning while being sensitive to the concerns of their Jewish brothers and sisters? This is a valuable and important question, particularly at this time of year.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the same God who freed his people from slavery and acted on their behalf throughout the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, the Passover means everything to us. A Christian who dismisses or ignores its meaning and importance is ignoring the basis of his own faith. That basis is that God enters into a covenant relationship with his people, that God reveals himself to his people and sets them free from oppression and evil.
For a Christian, these actions of covenant, revelation, and liberation continue and reach their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The God who set his people free from slavery in the past sets them free from the slavery of sin now, through the blood of the Paschal Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The God who revealed himself to his people in the past gives the fullness of that revelation in Jesus Christ, who is the exact image of the Father.
Therefore, in the Passover celebration itself, the Christian sees a foreshadowing of Christ, and Catholics see a foreshadowing of the Sacrifice of the Mass. To celebrate the Passover with our Jewish brothers and sisters, or in our own Churches, is therefore an action of profound meaning.
But what about the sensitivities in the Jewish community?
First of all, I love my Jewish brothers and sisters, and cannot find words adequate to express my respect for them. If I, or any Christian, were ever a cause of insult or hurt to them collectively or individually, we should apologize and make reparation as quickly as possible.
Sensitivity and respect are obviously a mutual responsibility, and have to acknowledge each person’s religious liberty. I am not offended that my Jewish brothers and sisters do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord. I know they do not intend any offense to me, nor do I take any offense. At the same time, I know I do not intend any offense to them by proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, and I do not expect them to be offended by the fact that I am a Christian.
Granting all that, there are ways that we can avoid unintended offense. Just taking the time to understand one another’s faith is a good start, and that’s why I would hope that my Jewish friends would see the Christian observance of Passover as an act of respect, an act of trying to better understand what we all acknowledge to be a key intervention of God in human history, and a key celebration of the Jewish community.
While I think Christians have a right to celebrate Passover in their own churches, I think it would be even better to join our Jewish brothers and sisters in their own celebration. In like manner, the Christian community welcomes them to our celebration of Easter.
These are sensitive and deeply emotional issues, and on both sides of the Jewish-Christian world, we don’t always do so great a job at handling them. But at this time of year, both communities are celebrating a God who loves them and intervenes in our own human weakness to raise us up to freedom in him. Let’s see the common bond we have there. Let’s rejoice in it. And let’s laugh together, at the goodness of God, and at ourselves, too.